Professional drivers are the lifeblood of the truckstop and travel plaza industry. While locations focus on their customers every day, many locations hold special events each year to honor the 3.4 million professional truck drivers in the U.S.
Every July, Iowa 80 Truckstop in Walcott, Iowa, holds a massive driver appreciation event, the Walcott Truckers Jamboree. The event brings in nearly 30,000 drivers, their families and locals and will celebrate its 33rd anniversary this year. The event will feature 175 exhibits, a super truck beauty contest, a pork chop cookout and free concerts. In 2011 visitors came from 23 different states and Canada.
Heather DeBaillie, marketing director for Iowa 80, said, “It is an opportunity for us to say thank you to drivers who work hard to deliver the goods we need; as well as showcase the trucking industry to the general public.”
Many locations center their driver appreciation events around the American Trucking Associations’ Driver Appreciation Week, which takes place Sept. 16-22.
This year the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) is joining with truckstops to promote health and wellness during Driver Appreciation Week. “We’re saying not only do we appreciate you, but we want to make sure you’re here longer,” said Debbie Sparks, TCA’s vice president of development.
TCA is reaching out to locations through NATSO and has also partnered with 12 TravelCenters of America and Petro Stopping Centers locations to hold health fairs on Sept. 18.
“From 3:00 to 7:00 we are going to talk about sleep apnea, do metabolic tests and blood pressure checks and hold a health fair to answer questions,” Sparks said. “At 7:00 we’ll host celebrity walks on the locations’ walking paths.”
Celebrities will include country singer Lindsay Lawler and John Ratzenberger, who starred as Cliff Clavin on Cheers. “We have quite a few celebrities we’re lining up,” Sparks said.
For those who follow TCA’s lead and focus on wellness, Sparks said locations may want to promote healthy dining options. “Maybe they feature special menu items that week they don’t normally have or have a half-price healthy meal option to get the driver to try it,” she said. “It may even be giving away an apple with every purchase over a certain dollar amount just to start having drivers think about healthier eating.”
Focus on drivers
The costs associated with events can sometimes be a problem. Wendi Powell, manager of Big Boy’s Truck Stop in Kenly, N.C., said the location used to hold a large picnic that attracted around 2,500 people. One challenge with the event was that it continued to grow each year and started attracting more and more locals.
“That wasn’t all bad, but that wasn’t our intention,” Powell said. When the economy constricted, management decided to discontinue the picnic and focus its efforts on customer service throughout the year. “We do a lot of free showers, free coffee service and ways we can keep costs for our drivers down,” Powell said. “That is how we try to show our appreciation for our drivers.”
Sparks said focusing on health and wellness may be a cost effective way for locations to provide something extra for drivers. Locations may want to reach out to local non-profit agencies, such as cancer or lung associations, that can provide brochures or other giveaways the location can distribute, she said.
Promote your event
No matter what type of appreciation events locations hold, operators can list their driver appreciation event online. “We felt we needed one place for people to post their events. We want drivers to have somewhere to go to find the activities for them,” Sparks said.
Once operators post their events to the site, they go live immediately. “It is very easy to use the form, and it prompts them with the questions. They can list information about the event and who is invited,” Sparks said.
Sparks said most drivers look up events all the way up until Sept. 15, so locations don’t need to worry if they can’t post their details far in advance.
Whether locations plan a large- or small-scale event, Sparks said they are a great way to attract more drivers and cultivate repeat customers. “Drivers get online and talk about something somebody did for them,” she said.
Follow These Three Steps for Creating a Great Driver Appreciation Event
1 Decide on the Event: There are countless ways locations can show drivers they care. Operators may want to grab their staff and brainstorm unique ways to reach their core customers. Here are a few ideas:
- Offer drivers a free pancake breakfast
- Have employees wash drivers’ windshields when they pull in
- Offer free sodas
- Talk with suppliers to see if they can provide free gifts for drivers
- Set up games and offer prizes
- Hold a concert with a local band
2 Dig into the Details: Take a careful look at the event and make a list of everything needed to pull it off. For example, those holding a concert may need to bring in extra chairs or hay bales for seating. Also, don’t forget to factor in staff support to handle any increase in customers. Locations will also need to decide who can take advantage of giveaways. Some locations require drivers to have a CDL while others open events to the general public.
3 Spread the Word: Driver appreciation events are a great way to generate word-of-mouth marketing and attract new customers. There are several free ways to promote events. List events free at TCA’s National Truck Driver Appreciation and Wellness Week website, and those familiar with social media may also want to turn to Twitter and Facebook.
This article originally ran in Stop Watch magazine. Stop Watch provides in-depth content to assist NATSO members in improving their travel plaza business operations and provides context on trends and news affecting the industry.
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